It has been said that if we want to discover what we really value most we need to look honestly at what we spend our time and money on. Most Christians, if asked what they value most will answer, “God.” But that is the expected answer. The truest answer can be found by looking at our calendars and spending habits.
Disclaimer – The text that follows makes use of the collective “we.” The use of this collective pronoun is not to be interpreted as the “absolute” as in “Every single one of us does this without exception.” Rather the collective “we” bespeaks a general human tendency that will, in fact vary from person to person. Hence not all of what you read may apply to you. Nothing should be taken personally. There is a saying, “If the shoe fits wear it. Otherwise, let it pass over you.” With this disclaimer in mind let’s look at how “we” make use of money and time and what this might saying about what we truly values and what our priorities truly are.
If we look to our spending habits we discover that, at least in the modern American setting, our greatest love is creature comforts and entertainment. Even the necessities we purchase like food, clothing and shelter are riddled with comfort. For example we buy a lot of food that soothes and merely appeals to taste but is otherwise junk. We buy homes that do far more than shelter us, but feature vast entertainment areas, widescreen TVs, large open kitchens, great rooms, cathedral ceilings, pools and patios. Our clothes too must come in every variety, matching shoes and ensembles. Even our cars have plush and adjustable seats, and have entertainment centers installed to include: fine Bose sound, mp3 players, Satellite radio, even flat screen TVs that play movies. All of this adds a hefty price tag to our increasingly high and comfortable standard of living, and we pay it! It goes a long way to show how highly we value comfort and entertainment.
But as for God, he too easily gets the financial leftovers. We may spend hundreds of dollars at a fine restaurant, 20 to 30 dollars going to the movies, hundreds more to go to a cold wet stadium and watch football and eat over-priced hotdogs. We will plop down large amounts for video games and Wii accessories, and yet feel like a hero if we drop $10 in the collection plate instead of our usual $5. Never mind that Scripture says that God is to get the first 10% of our income (e.g. Malachi 3:8-12), the fact is, he usually gets the leftovers. After the mortgage, car note, cable bill, magazine subscription and credit card bill are paid, after all the impulse spending, we figure out what, if anything is left and from that give to God. But truth be told He doesn’t get paid upfront like the like Mr. Walmart, God gets the leftovers.
For things we really like, money is no object, Charge it! But giving to the Archbishop’s Lenten Appeal, or increasing our offertory to afford the new parish education building is considered an odious imposition and our soul cries out, “Not again?!” Catholic School education has surely gone up in price and that is a factor in the dropping enrollment but many Catholic families still manage to afford some pretty nice stuff.
The fact is we just don’t value God and the things of God like we value comfort and entertainment. It may be a hard truth but it’s right there in our spending habits, plain as day. At the end of the day our priorities are pretty plain.
And as for our time – here too the overall portrait is pretty bleak. The vast majority of Catholics give NO time to God at all. 3/4 s don’t even go to Mass. Quite certainly they don’t pray either on any regular basis, if at all. As for the 20-25% who do go to Mass God gets 45 – 60 minutes a week. But beyond that, how much does the average Catholic pray each day? How much time do they spend with Scripture or the study of their faith. To be fair, many Catholics do attend bible studies, adult ed and/or other Church activities, but many do none of this.
Time for everything else – Now, of course, everyone is busy in these stress filled times. But we find time for everything else. We find time to sleep and eat, time to watch our favorite shows. We find time for vacations and other diversions. Many people can spend hours shopping, watching sports games, movies and the like. But when it comes to prayer, study of the faith, teaching the faith to children, reading Scripture, or helping the poor…., well, you know, “I’m just so busy.”
At the football game everyone is excited when it goes into overtime. But if Mass runs long, there is irritation. Football is about a bag full of air being pitched around a field. But Mass is about eternal verities and soul-saving grace. But never mind, five hours on football is reasonable, but a Mass longer than 45 minutes is unreasonable.
The truth, as told by time, is that many value leisure and worldly activities far more than God or the faith. We may wish to doubt this but it is written right into our calendars and the balance isn’t even close. For most people God gets nothing of their time, for some he gets an hour a week, only a very small percentage give more.
Disclaimer 2 – It is a true fact that we cannot spend all day in a chapel or give all our money to God. Most people have significant and serious obligations they must meet financially and temporally toward others. Meeting obligations IS part of our holiness. Yet most of us do have disposable income and leisure time. It is how we make use of these resources that we must most look to discover how highly God really ranks in our world.
Telling the truth by time and money remains very instructive for us. Very instructive indeed.